HomeLiterature Study GuidesMiddlemarchBook 1 Chapters 11 12 Summary

Middlemarch | Study Guide

George Eliot

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Middlemarch | Book 1, Chapters 11–12 : Miss Brooke | Summary

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Summary

Chapter 11

The next two chapters are flashbacks, occurring before Dorothea's engagement. Chapter 11 begins by connecting Dr. Lydgate to Rosamund Vincy, who enchants him with her grace and beauty. But he doesn't expect to marry for many years. Nonetheless, the narrator comments that "when a man has seen the woman whom he would have chosen if he had intended to marry speedily, his remaining a bachelor will usually depend on her resolution rather than on his."

Rosamund and Fred Vincy, the eldest children of the manufacturer introduced in the previous chapter, are quarreling amiably. He is recently home after quitting university. Rosamund is a beautiful blonde who was the star pupil at an academy for ladies. Mrs. Vincy's sister, now deceased, was married to Peter Featherstone. Vincy's sister is married to Bulstrode. Featherstone is old, rich, and ill, and the Vincys expect him to leave money to his nephew, Fred. Mary Garth keeps house for Featherstone, who is his niece by his first wife, also deceased. Rosamund is curious about the new doctor, Dr. Lydgate, and would like an excuse to see him. Since he is attending her uncle, she arranges to accompany Fred to Stone Court the next day.

Chapter 12

Featherstone is visited by his sister, Mrs. Waule, who is worried her brother will leave money away from his family. Thus, she repeats gossip about Fred, asserting he is borrowing money to gamble at billiards on the expectation of an inheritance. When Fred and Rosamund arrive, Featherstone asks to speak to him alone, and the girls go to Mary's room. Featherstone repeats the story, and Fred honestly denies it, although he thinks to himself he may have spoken publicly about inheriting Featherstone's money. Featherstone requires proof, specifically a letter from Fred's uncle Bulstrode saying he has not promised to pay his debt with Featherstone's land. Fred knows Bulstrode will likely object and that Featherstone is demanding this proof merely to exercise his power. But he feels he has no choice, because he doesn't want to fall out of favor with his miserly uncle.

Meanwhile, the young women are discussing Dr. Lydgate. Rosamund is disposed to like him because she wants to marry a talented outsider with good connections. Both girls are about 22, but Mary's family is poor, and she is short and plain with few prospects. Her intelligence and circumstances have made her shrewd and somewhat bitter about other people's motives. Rosamund mentions her father is angry that Fred quit school and will not take holy orders. Mary takes his part and says he is not fit to be a clergyman and would be a hypocrite if he became one. When Featherstone and Fred finish talking, the women come out, and soon Lydgate arrives for a house call. Rosamund and Lydgate experience a strong, mutual attraction when they see each other. As the brother and sister ride home, Rosamund fantasizes about a life with Lydgate, and Fred determines that it is best to not go to Bulstrode directly but to get his father to ask.

Analysis

The narrator introduces two additional plot threads in these chapters—the couplings of Rosamund and Tertius Lydgate, and Fred and Mary Garth. Rosamund is a beautiful social climber who wants a solid berth in the middle class. From the start she is characterized as charming, accomplished in a superficial way, and shallow in her aspirations—the very opposite of Dorothea. For Lydgate, she is everything a woman ought to be. But the doctor has come to Middlemarch to make his name. Rosamund has her pick of suitors, but she wants an outsider with ambition, not someone who is part of the general public of Middlemarch. Inevitably, this couple will come together and marry, as predicted by the narrator at the beginning of Chapter 11.

Fred's case is more complicated. As the eldest son of his father who will not follow Mr. Vincy into business, he has few respectable career choices. It was quite common for the sons of the middle class to attend university and then take holy orders in the Anglican Church, whether or not they had a religious calling. While Fred seems somewhat indolent (he gets up late, he gambles at billiards, he publicly gossips about a hypothetical inheritance), he at least had the resolve to refuse to enter the church, a profession he is unsuited for. Clearly, Fred is in a quandary. He has been spending too much money, and now he runs the risk of alienating his father further, along with his two uncles. What will Fred do if he doesn't become a clergyman? That is the most important question Fred will have to grapple with, although it is not currently the question on his mind.

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